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Matchup Winners: Defense suffocates San Diego

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RAN


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Unlike a week earlier in Green Bay, the Patriots tried to run the ball early and often in San Diego. After a promising start, the results just weren't there. LeGarrette Blount cemented his status as the lead back for the third straight game and was hot on the opening drive, carrying seven times for 39 yards as the Patriots marched the length of the field deep into San Diego territory. After Blount picked up 9 yards on first-and-goal from the 10, however, Josh McDaniels chose to pass twice and New England was forced to settle for a field goal. From that point on Blount never was able to break into the second level as the Chargers overwhelmed the Patriots offensive line and bottled up the big back. Blount finished with 20 carries for 66 yards and a 3.3-yard average. As a team the Patriots were even worse with 87 yards on 28 attempts and a 3.1-yard average. After recording six efficient runs (4 yards or more, first down, touchdown) on nine first-quarter attempts, New England had just three on its remaining 15 tries (excluding Tom Brady's four attempts).  EDGE: CHARGERS

WHEN THE CHARGERS RAN


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San Diego also got off to a promising start on the ground, only the Chargers production fizzled out even faster than the Patriots did. Ryan Mathews averaged more than 5 yards a carry on his first three attempts but eventually finished with just 44 yards on 11 carries for an even 4-yard average. He was hit in the backfield to start consecutive drives in the second half during a defensive stretch of dominance for the Patriots that ultimately won them the football game. Brandon Oliver only had a yard to show for his three carries and the Chargers finished with 53 yards on 17 attempts for a 3.1-yard average. With no running game to lean on Philip Rivers was forced into a lot of long-yardage situations and the pass rush came through. But it all started with another strong effort up front for a group that welcomed Sealver Siliga back into the fold. After missing most of the season with a broken foot, Siliga made his presence felt inside and helped Jamie Collins (playing without Dont'a Hightower next to him) control the line of scrimmage. Dominant effort by the Patriots front seven. EDGE: PATRIOTS

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASSED


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The passing game wasn't all that much better and once again that was mostly due to the struggles up front. Nate Solder could not handle Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney, each of whom took turns creating problems off the edge for the Chargers. That led to some uncomfortable moments in the pocket for Brady, who rarely looked like himself. Brady being Brady, though, he still managed to make enough plays to win the game, none bigger than his 69-yard touchdown to Julian Edelman for a late insurance touchdown. He completed 28 of 44 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns plus a costly red zone interception late in the first half. He was sacked just once but was hurried repeatedly and was even forced to run for first downs twice. The Chargers also did a good job on his receivers, making them work for most of their catches. Edelman (eight catches, 141 yards) and Ron Gronkowski (eight catches, 87 yards) each caught touchdowns but aside from the late 69-yarder San Diego held the passing game in check.  EDGE: PATRIOTS

WHEN THE CHARGERS PASSED


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As we already mentioned, the run defense created a lot of favorable situations for the Patriots secondary. Once again Darrelle Revis dominated his one-on-one matchup – this time against the talented Keenan Allen. Allen caught two passes for a grand total of 3 yards. Brandon Browner had some trouble with Malcom Floyd, allowing a touchdown early, but he too was solid and held the deep threat to just three catches for 54 yards. Eddie Royal had just two receptions for 30 yards as Kyle Arrington continued his resurgent season playing in the slot. The tight coverage made life miserable for Rivers, who was sacked four times and didn't enjoy the luxury of time to throw that Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers had a week earlier. Rivers was harassed throughout and on the rare times he did have time to find a target he was uncharacteristically erratic. He completed 20 of 33 passes but for only 189 yards with one touchdown and a terrible interception to Akeem Ayers. The Chargers never had any rhythm and finished with just 216 yards of total offense. Considering the venue and quality of opponent, this may have been the Patriots best defensive performance in years.  EDGE: PATRIOTS

SPECIAL TEAMS


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A terrific bounce-back effort for the Patriots special teams. The biggest play of the game may have been Brandon Bolden's blocked punt that set up New England's first touchdown of the night. Not only did it allow the Patriots to crawl back within a point at 14-13, but it also took out punter Mike Scifres and forced kicker Nick Novak to handle those duties the rest of the way. Novak performed admirably but his shorter kicks allowed the Patriots the benefit of outstanding field position throughout a tight second half. Those hidden yards were one of the keys to victory. Stephen Gostkowski recorded four touchbacks and Ryan Allen averaged 49.4 yards on his five punts. Neither side did much in the return game, although Edelman did shake loose for a 16-yard punt return from deep in his own end. The lone blemish on the Patriots special teams report card was a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Brian Tyms that kick-started San Diego's only promising drive of the second half. The penalty move the ball from the Chargers 18 to the 33, and shortly San Diego was deep in New England territory before Ayers' pick stopped the drive. The penalty could have been costly.  EDGE: PATRIOTS

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